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GRAMOPHONE ( 11 / 2018)
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Alia Vox

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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

… ‘Bailar Cantando’, … presents the 20 pieces that are the entire musical content of the Codex Trujillo, a massive nine-volume report on the customs and lifestyles of the mestizo (or mixedrace) peoples of the colonial Peruvian city of Trujillo, compiled in the 1780s on the order of the local (Spanish) bishop. Jordi Savall first encountered this fascinating manuscript many years ago but it was only after meeting the musicians of the Mexico-based Tembembe Ensamble Continuo in 2006 that he felt ready to include two of its pieces on ‘Folías Criollas’ (A/10), and only now that he has tackled the entire collection, enlisting Tembembe’s support again to help him ‘guarantee the works’ essential spirit and style, which is both popular and refined, historical and yet very much alive in the present’.

There’s no denying that, or that the experiment has worked. No one listening to these sweetly elegant pieces would bother themselves with their historical context for long, so winning is their timeless South American spirit – a benign mixture of Spanish, Amerindian and African aesthetics. To melodies simple in contour and harmony but deliciously complex in rhythm, the lyrics (mainly in Spanish, but also in indigenous tongues such as Quechuan or Mochica) sing of the pains of love, rail against the harshness of the pressgang, obliquely recall the execution by the Spanish of the last Inca king, celebrate the baby Jesus or solemnly honour the Mother of God.

Savall’s orchestrations draw from the manuscript’s watercolour illustra-tions (some of which are reproduced in the booklet), and mix bowed and plucked strings (Andrew Lawrence-King’s harp making many telling contributions) with winds that encompass fruity dulcian and cackling cornett, and percussion that includes an effectively used horse’s jawbone. They sound just the part, as does the stylish singing, and although there isn’t any dancing it certainly isn’t hard to visualise some. The audience reaction has been edited out of this concert recording but it all sounds like a gently joyous occasion, like some long-remembered summer night under the stars. Irresistible.

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